For the past several weeks I've been working on the possibility of going to Iraq to embed with a Minnesota Army National Guard unit to shoot pictures and write a few stories about the war from a Minnesota perspective. So far the process has been a somewhat frustrating series of false starts and road blocks, and so I've decided that it's time to start writing about the process.
So what motivates a 39 year married old father of 2 with a comfortable home and nice salary to consider taking time off to travel to war zone at his own expense? I'm a 10 year veteran of the Minnesota Army National Guard and the US Army Airborne, and I've always been a military history buff. The wide scale deployment of the National Guard to Iraq and Afghanistan is really unprecedented in US history, and I think the story is being under reported. I would like to learn more about what it's like to be deployed in Iraq, from the Minnesota Army National Guard perspective in particular. Hopefully, I'll get the opportunity to share some of those experiences with people at home in Minnesota.
My first step after deciding that this seemed like a good idea was to contact the Public Affairs Office (PAO) of the Minnesota Army National Guard. I received a prompt and positive response from LTC Kevin Olson, the Directory of Public Affairs. He summed it up pretty simply, "If you are a credentialed journalist and can get to Kuwait City, I can get you embedded." Armed with that information, I went to work on learning what it would take to get "credentialed".
Our next door neighbor Gail is a variety editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and so that was an obvious place to start. I exchanged email with Dennis McGrath, the Assistant Managing Editor for Local News, and his response was typical of the communications I've had with several other papers since, "As a matter of policy, we don't issue credentials to freelance journalists -- only to our staff members." He did say he would be willing to take a look at what I produce, if I do manage to go.
It was obvious, that to make this happen I was going to have to spread a wider net. And so I sent a blast email to most the major Minneapolis area media outlets, as well as local and regional papers with hometown Guard units deployed to Iraq, and got a grand total of zero responses.
I also tried several national papers, and today I got a very supportive phone call from Mike Farrell, the Regional Editor for the Middle East at the Christian Science Monitor. Mike said that after the Jill Carroll kidnapping the Monitor wouldn't be willing to credential me, but he had a variety of other good ideas that I'm pursuing. He had complementary things to say about my photography, and said he would be interested in seeing my stories and photos if I did manage to get embedded. Not the answer I was hoping for, but motivational none the less.
I have lots of irons in the fire, and I'll keep you posted as things progress.
Wish me luck!
Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)
Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: http://billroggio.com/archives/2007/03/arrival_alignright_v.php